Junior chemical engineering majors Fred Okafor, Kale Schuetzeburg, Jonathan Orozco, and Mustafa Saleem won the HBCU Ford Community Challenge on November 17 in Dearborn, Michigan winning $75,000 to implement their plan to impact the community.
The HBCU Ford Community Challenge is put together by Ford along with Tom Joyner Morning Show and Rickey Smiley Morning Show to give students the opportunity to submit proposals based around the theme of building sustainable communities.
The 4 chemical engineering students presented their proposal for Triple E, an app that will let you monitor your water, gas, and electricity in real time.
Okafor explained to Black America Web that Triple E (Triple Energy) is “three digital meters – water, gas and electricity. We install them into people’s home or businesses and the meters are watching…it will let you read real-time on your phone or tablet, how much water you’re using. Same thing with electricity. It will tell you how many currents you’re using.”
It all started when someone in the department emailed Okafor about the opportunity and he shared it with his friends. Once finally getting that email saying they qualified as one of the top 3 teams out of 32 to compete, they all agreed to work hard on the challenge which lasted about nine weeks.
Finding a subject to work on, the friends agreed that they wanted to help the community, the environment, and assist the non-profit organization, Habitat for Humanity.
“I remember growing up and my parents talking about maintaining the bills and telling me to keep the lights off but it wasn’t until college when I got my first bill in my apartment where I realized ‘wow this is my bill’, I understand it and now how can I can make a difference,” said Okafor.
Trying to safe resources for the environment, trying to make people aware of their energy consumption, and scholarship which is where the Triple E idea stemmed from.
Throughout the team’s stay in Dearborn, they experienced the Ford Rouge Factory Tour and were mentored by Ford professionals to help guide them throughout the competition.
“Without the mentors we wouldn’t have won,” said Mustafa Saleem. “They guided us from the beginning, middle, and conclusion. They told us what to say, exactly how to say it, what questions that would be asked, and how to be presented; they were incredible.”
Thursday, the team competed against Johnson C. Smith University and Hampton University in front of the 4 judges, radio personality and philanthropist Tom Joyner, the great-great-grandson of Henry Ford and Ford Performance Global Marketing Manager, Henry Ford III, Ford Fund Director of Community Development, Pamela Alexander, and Ford Vice President of Global Vehicle, Powertrain Purchasing and Supplier Diversity Development, Burt Jordan.
The judges voted in an unanimous vote giving PVAMU the first place prize of $75,000 and iPads for every team member. The team said the experience was the best part of the whole trip.
“The experience was great even if we didn’t get enough sleep, they treated us like VIPs everywhere,” said Jonathan Orozco.
Staying up practicing their presentation and making sure to have the top spot solidified, the team agreed that in the beginning it was hard.
“I enjoyed the struggle the most out of the project, looking back it all pays off, it’s hard to see the end goal from the start but just seeing your effort play out is awesome,” explained Kale Schuetzeburg. “I learned that once you participate in college that’s when you have fun, because I thought partying was cool but this was definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”
Implementing this proposal took months and the experience made the team see their strengths beyond just taking exams in their daily college lives.
“It definitely made me a more hardworking person and made me more of a time management person,” said Saleem. “It was just a great experience because we had the whole support of PV and got to see a lot of alumni. It was really great seeing the business and engineering side of Ford, it was just great.”
The team predicts that in three to four months the product should be ready & will be placed in the Habitat for Humanity homes. This is the fourth year that Ford has done this competition and their “the program encourages students to develop innovative proposals to combat issues facing their communities. Each proposal should creatively address a pressing need that focuses on at least one of these areas-mobility, alternative energy, sustainability and water, and systematic approaches to finding a solution to a community need.”
“Ford Fund is proud to support the creativity, community focus and teamwork of these future leaders,” says Pamela Alexander, director, Ford Motor Company Fund. “Students who participate are helping improve the quality of life in our communities to bring about a better world.” Be sure to join the program’s social conversation by following #FordHBCU.”
Saleem gives advice for next year’s class saying to “think of something creative, don’t copy others, and know the content of your product in and out regardless of what part you have. Be confident and make sure your product helps the environment and helps the community and you will have the same chance to win as us.”